Editors’ note: The following article by Rabbi Chaim Jachter is the second part of a series on Sechirat Reshut. For the first part, please visit koltorah.org.
Rental of an Entire Country
After analyzing the specific Halachot of Sechirat Reshut, we can now discuss the question of renting the entire country from the United States president or his representative. Rav Willig’s initial response was to investigate whether the federal government enjoys the right of eminent domain, and if they retain the right to enter people’s houses with an appropriate warrant. These are the two bases of how a Sechirat Reshut could work in a democracy.
Upon researching these matters I discovered that the federal government undoubtedly enjoys the power of eminent domain as made clear by the following authoritative website https://www.justice.gov/enrd/history-federal-use-eminent-domain. The following link, in turn, makes it clear that the federal government is able to enter houses after obtaining a warrant https://www.fbi.gov/resources/victim-assistance/a-brief-description-of-the-federal-criminal-justice-process. Thus, it would seem that the President of the United States as the head of the federal government enjoys the Halachic right to rent the entire country. Indeed, in Israel, the chief rabbis rent the entire country from both the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense and the national head of the police. Interestingly, the rental was not made from the Prime Minister.
However, when I presented this idea to Rav Schachter he did not endorse the idea. Rav Schachter thought that, unlike a mayor, chief of police or county executive, the president has little to do with the day to day functioning of a city or a county and thus is not qualified (or perhaps overqualified) to conduct a Sechirat Reshut. We may add that even though Israel’s chief rabbinate rents the entire country from the government, one cannot compare the United States and Israel since the United States is dramatically larger and has a dramatically greater population. Thus, the Israeli officials have much more involvement in the running of the area than the American President and even cabinet ministers.
Issues of Eivah
In addition, the danger of causing animosity among the other nations of the world (“Mah Yomeru HaGoyim” and Haseir Sone’Einu UmKatregeinu”) makes it unwise for the Jewish community to “rent” the entire country from the president. Thus, regarding this idea we apply the wise words of the Gemara (Pesachim 22b) ”K’Sheim Shemekabeil Sechar Al HaDerishah Kach Mekabeil Sechar Al HaPerishah”, just as reward is granted for the investigation so too is reward extended for withdrawing a proposal when it is appropriate to do so.
Foreign Embassies Within an Eruv
Muammar Gaddaffi’s September 2009 visit to New York raised a serious question in regard to the validity of the Englewood, New Jersey Eruv. The Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations resides in the heart of the Englewood Orthodox Jewish community. During the summer of 2009, in anticipation of Gaddaffi’s possible visit to the Libyan property in Englewood in September, extensive work was done on the property. The fences and gates that surrounded the property were temporarily removed, raising a serious question concerning the validity of the Englewood Eruv. The fences were not utilized as part of the Eruv – what could have the problem have been?
The Netivot Shabbat (37:93) notes that all would agree that the mayor and police cannot rent out a foreign embassy located within a city, as international law recognizes it as sovereign territory of the nation it represents. Thus, according to this opinion it would be forbidden to carry into a foreign embassy even in an area encompassed by an Eruv, such as Jerusalem or Washington, on Shabbat.
Prior to the summer of 2009 the Libyan property did not pose a problem for the Englewood Eruv since it was fenced in and was thereby excluded from the Eruv. However, when the fences came down in 2009, the Englewood Eruv became “exposed” (Nifratz L’Makom Assur) to the Libyan property. This meant that the rabbis of Englewood would have had to conduct a sechirat reshut with Muammar Gaddafi or his representative in order for the Englewood Eruv to be valid!
Seeing that it was highly unlikely that we would be able to obtain the cooperation of Libyan officials, I (in my role as the Rav HaMachshir of the Englewood Eruv) consulted Rav Mordechai Willig. He told me that he confronted the same issue with the residence of the Russian ambassador to the United Nations located within the Riverdale Eruv.
Rav Willig informed us that he consulted with Professor Louis Henkin, son of the great Poseik Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, who was a world renowned expert on international law. Professor Henkin explained that foreign embassies are not technically defined as foreign territory. Under normal circumstances, local authorities grant the embassies a great deal of autonomy as a courtesy. Thus, police would not usually enter a foreign embassy. However, in case of a serious emergency such as a fire, local officials do enter embassy property even if the foreign representatives protest such entrance. Local authorities would not be able to do so if the embassy area was truly foreign territory. Attorney Michael Wildes, formerly the mayor of Englewood, confirmed (in a personal conversation) that this is accurate and current information.
Embassy property is included in the Sechirat Reshut granted by the local authorities, since it is not technically defined as foreign territory (at least in the United States; it might differ elsewhere, such as in Israel where the author of Netivot Shabbat resides). Accordingly, the removal of the fences on the Libyan property in Englewood did not impinge on the validity of the Englewood Eruv and no separate Sechirat Reshut with Libyan officials was required.
Interestingly, though, the Mechon L’Hoyro’ah excludes the property of the United Nations from the Manhattan Eruv, which it oversees. This seems to stem from concern that the United Nations proerty is considered international territory and not part of the sovereign United States territory (though for further discussion see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headquarters_of_the_United_Nations) and thus not subsumed within the Sechirat Reshut conducted with the New York city officials.